Does your furchild tend to freak when you leave the house? You’re not alone. It’s stressful for everyone involved so let’s talk about some practical strategies.
Long term solution: Get a trainer. Separation anxiety takes a lot of time and patience to work through, and if you’re new to dog ownership or dog training, you’re going to need some help. Internet videos will help a bit, but trainers will stand with you and make sure you’re doing things correctly. In fact, dog trainers mostly focus on training the humans more than dogs, and there are some specific tactics you can use to address deep-rooted dog anxieties. And, while trainers can be pricey, they do help immediately and have lasting results (if you stick with it, that is!). Finding a dog trainer also merits its own blog post entirely, but suffice it to say that you want one familiar with behavioral issues and positive reinforcement training.
Short term solution: Consider crating. If your dog is like my last dog, Denver, and has severe trauma associated, don’t push it. But crating is an incredible resource and makes life easier for you and your pup. Assuming your dog is properly crate trained (this merits a totally separate post, stay tuned for that), the crate can be a comfortable way for your dog to pass the time while you’re out of the house. Most trainers will recommend you start with crate training anyway, so it’s worth exploring.
In the meantime: Keep them busy. If you’re in strict no-crate-zone and can’t afford a trainer, keep your dog busy and tired. If they’re mentally stimulated and physically tired, they will have less pent up energy to pace around and panic. They definitely may still panic and destroy things, but you can stem the damage by giving them productive outlets for their nervous energy. Firstly, give long walks and plenty of play time before you leave them alone. Then, when it’s time for you to leave the house, put high value treats in a toy and give it to the pup right as you leave. This way they start to associate you leaving with treats, AND they have something to keep them distracted as you walk out the door. There are all sorts of tricks to keep them busy like freezing a kong with peanut butter inside (freezing makes it last longer) or feeding their meals in puzzle toys. With Denver I did it all. We did dog park time in the mornings, I fed him breakfast in a puzzle toy as I left, and as the dog walker left him in the afternoon she would give him a kong out of the freezer. This way he was entertained for 80% of the time he was alone. Definitely not a perfect solution, but it helped. Scroll down for some links to our favorite puzzle toys.